It’s fair to say Caesar Nieves enjoys a challenge. When government contractor Jacobs asked him in late 2019 to take on the role of senior vice president and general manager in its newly reshaped cyber business unit, he jumped at the chance.
“Cyber” here refers not to just cybersecurity, but to the broad suite of digital tools and capabilities reshaping the way government operates. Nieves talked to WashingtonExec about how Jacobs is approaching that market, where the challenges lie and where he sees opportunity for GovCons to blaze a trail.
What attracted you to the position at Jacobs?
I get excited about business transformation, and Jacobs has gone through a true transformation — from a legacy engineering company to a solutions and technology company with two lines of business. One line of business is Critical Mission Solutions. This is where the government service arm and cyber business reside. The second line of business, our People and Places Solutions, focuses on our commercial and international business aligned with Transportation, Water, Environmental and Advanced Facilities.
After listening to CEO Steve Demetriou and Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Critical Mission Solutions Dawne Hickton explain their vision — to be part of the pure-play government services area, and to make bold moves by placing a focus on cyber with multiple acquisitions — I knew that Jacobs was the place I needed to be.
My background has always been in business processes, re-engineering, transformation as well as in cyber. I saw this as an opportunity to put all of my skill sets together and accelerate the growth of the Jacobs cyber business.
How have you brought Jacobs’s renewed cyber offerings out into the federal space?
When I came on board with Jacobs, the cyber business was aligned around “functional” entities, like analytics and cybersecurity operations. Now, we have realigned to be more “market” focused. We have three designated performance units aligned to support the defense agencies and intelligence community; defense services and joint combat and command; and federal civilian markets.
Being market focused allows us to pivot certain ways. For example, in the intel arena, we are in some of the IC agencies and now we want to pivot into some of the military intel side. There is also the people piece of it. We are bringing in people with expertise in these specific markets, new leaders who have true relevance and relationships to help us accelerate into these markets.
What did you hear back from your government customers about their needs?
We have heard a lot of things related to data. A lot of what we are seeing today is based on ingesting information, protecting it, analyzing it and understanding it. Data is becoming the foundation of how we make our decisions.
From a cyber perspective, we look at the new ways for protecting data, as well as how to apply machine learning, artificial intelligence and analytics to streamline actionable decision-making. This includes ensuring that the workforce is trained properly on the new technologies.
And then came COVID…?
It has accelerated a lot of factors and ideas such as working remote and learning how to collaborate without being together in the same room. Of course, we had been doing that on a smaller scale prior to COVID, but we hadn’t been doing it in concert with our government customers. Now, we are doing that together, using the government-approved collaboration tools: MS Teams for Government, Zoom for Government, WebEx.
Today, we are more in touch with our customers and are talking more often. Whether it is the acquisition office and the contracting folks or our direct customers, there is a lot of communication going on, and it is all very positive. As we make plans to return to the workplace, the last two months have made it easier to communicate and collaborate with our government customers. They have seen that we have applied their guidance and that we are able to adjust as needed depending on the environment we are in.
Where do you see opportunity to expand Jacobs in the federal market?
Cyber is a saturated market and a lot of other companies are more advanced with their branding. We are focusing on going from “Now to NEXT.” The NEXT generation of cyber solutions, whether that be zero trust, collaboration tools, is what we feel will give Jacobs the edge in certain areas of the cyber market.
For us, one differentiator has been the emphasis on cyber readiness: the training that we provide for soldiers and government officials to ensure they have access to the latest and greatest technologies.
We also are focusing on analytics. We have an Insights Group around business intelligence, machine learning — pockets of analytics capabilities. This is aligned with our OEM partnerships where we go to market together with a “powered by Jacobs” or branded approach to get us that upfront push.
Another piece is tied to our People and Places Solutions line of business, which goes across life sciences, water, environmental, telecom. We are looking at operational technology, internet of things, all the industrial-based components. This is not your traditional government contractor space. These are even more areas we are considering to grow in an accelerated fashion.
What do you enjoy most about this work?
I’ve grown up in the industry, from Booz Allen to Dell, to Unisys, to Engility. I’ve been through a number of transformations, and the excitement is always around having a shared purpose and the culture to support that. It ties to the people, who are the enablers.
I look at myself as a servant leader. I can lay out the vision and strategy, then it’s all about the people: building those high-performance teams, empowering and growing our future leaders. You need to make sure you’ve got the right folks on board and that they buy into what you’re trying to do and where you are trying to go. That’s where I see myself.